MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Flip Saunders is a former coach himself, so he knows how coveted a head coaching job in the NBA can be.
The Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations may also soon find out how difficult filling an opening can be as well.
Saunders started the search for a new coach in earnest on Tuesday, one day after Rick Adelman announced his retirement. It’s a move that has been expected for some time, and Saunders has no doubt been kicking around possibilities. As a former coach, and a well-respected basketball mind, Saunders has a vast reservoir of contacts in the coaching fraternity, contacts that he will need to tap during a delicate search for a new leader.
Hanging over the process is Kevin Love’s uncertain future in Minnesota. Love can opt out of his contract after next season. The possibility of losing the face of the franchise, one of the best power forwards in the game and a relentless worker who has improved every summer could give some coaches pause when considering Minnesota.
“Will that be a factor I don’t know,” Saunders said. “I do know anytime you can be in the NBA and have the opportunity to coach at this level, a lot of people would jump at that opportunity.”
Saunders knows firsthand about allures of the position. He coached the Timberwolves for 10 years, leading them to the only eight playoff appearances in franchise history. He also coached in Detroit and Washington, and many believe he would like to return to the bench with the Wolves.
“I’m not going to answer that,” Saunders said when asked if he could do both jobs. “You never know. Ideally right now we’re going to do a search. The search isn’t just coming to talk to me. We’ll sit down and put together a list, see the interest those people have and we’ll make decisions based on that.”
Owner Glen Taylor has made it clear that he prefers Saunders, who also was given part-ownership status when he took the president job before last season, to remain in the front office and watch over the team’s long-term planning while a coach monitors the day-to-day fortunes of the team.
Love is coming off of a career year, but he hasn’t made the playoffs in his first six seasons in the league. Saunders has taken great pains to make Love feel welcome and valued in the organization, but Love has given no indication as to his future plans.
“I’m sure like last summer I’ll be pretty heavily involved,” Love said after the Timberwolves lost their season finale last week.
Saunders said he would bounce ideas off Love, Ricky Rubio and several of the team’s players to get their input on what they would like to see in a new coach. But he stopped short of saying Love will be closely involved.
“I had (Kevin Garnett) for 10 years,” Saunders said. “If I took the players KG wanted all the time, the roster would have looked a lot different. I believe what you do is talk characteristics, but you don’t put a player, any player no matter who he is, in that light where he’s making that decision. It’s not fair to him. It’s not fair to the person you bring in. I wouldn’t do that.”
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and NBA coaching veterans George Karl, Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Van Gundy are all attractive candidates on the open market. Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a former Timberwolves player and executive, is not a candidate, Saunders said on WCCO-AM radio.
“Successful coaches in this league have the ability to take talent and adapt that talent to a system, be demanding, hold players accountable,” Saunders said. “Just like any good coach, everyone has the same formula what you are looking for. We are more geared toward bringing someone who has a track record, who’s had some success.”
The team is opening a new practice facility next fall and has a deal with the city of Minneapolis for a major upgrade of Target Center, so Saunders believes he has a lot to sell.
“I believe I have a pretty broad knowledge of a lot of those coaches,” Saunders said. “Because of that I’m looking forward to it, because I do have a vision of what I believe that a team needs to be to be successful, and it’s a matter of having someone who shares that vision.”
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